When Mom had a dinner party she often threw off a ball of energy much like that of the Tasmanian devil. In a single afternoon, she would sweep through the grocery store, throw the ingredients together, run the vacuum around the house, and –voila!—a party was born. To a large degree, this blog has been a celebration of her spontaneity. After all, her ability to get things done on the fly was truly remarkable. There was poetry in her chaos.
A lot can be said, however, for a carefully planned and executed meal. And no one pulls this off better than my mother-in-law, Lenore.
About two or three weeks before any given holiday, Lenore sketches out a menu. She then whips up a batch of chicken soup for freezing. Within a few days of the festivities, she will cook the dishes that can be frozen or safely refrigerated and clean the house. On the morning of the big day, she wakes up to set the table with good china. Be it Thanksgiving, Passover, or Rosh Hoshanah, guests are always greeted by a serene hostess with time to visit. (It doesn’t hurt that she is flagged by her sister-in-law, a seasoned pro at last minute details.)
As much as I strive to emulate the spirit of Mom, a great deal of what I know about entertaining and cooking I learned from Lenore. For several years now, I have thrown a Yom Kippur break-the-fast party for roughly 30 to 40 people. (FYI, Break-The-Fast is when Jewish people cap off a day of sin-atoning starvation with a huge bagel nosh). Inspired by Lenore, I begin the preparations by writing a highly-detailed list. When the party is over, I usually jot down notes to myself, and file the list for the following year. I have done the same for Thanksgiving, Christmas and Hannukah. (OK, I’ll admit, I just really, really, really love to make lists!!!)
The list-making may border on insanity, and Mom surely would shake her head with wonder. However, unlike my Mom, without structure I am an utter disaster. Such as this week, when I discovered at the very busy check-out line at Fairway grocery store that I forgot to bring my wallet, and had to call my husband to find said wallet to rescue me from angry Fairway cashier, manager and customers…thus narrowly averting riot on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. See? Disaster!
Practical benefits aside, grace resides in a good plan. And while, I always believed that an instinctive approach was the only way to express yourself through cooking, Lenore has proven me wrong. As she recently put it: “I love the science of cooking. If I carefully follow directions, I can create something entirely new. Something completely different from where I began.”
LENORE’S CHICKEN SOUP
Lenore is best known for her chicken soup. While her soup does not require precise amounts, it certainly embodies the magic of science. After all, soup is the biology of fat, bones, salt and water that somehow creates a delicious antibiotic. Who knew?!
Making soup from scratch takes the large part of a day, but I think it’s totally worth it. I usually make soup once or twice a year, and then freeze the broth in smaller containers. The stock lasts me months, and reduces my grocery shopping list –and sodium intake— significantly. Also, making soup is insanely satisfying. Makes you feel like Ma Ingalls, stocking up for the big winter.
(As written in her daughter Jodi’s family cookbook)
1 stewing (or soup) chicken, cut in quarters to make about 6 jars of soup.
4 carrots sliced thick
3 stalks of celery sliced thick
Several sprigs of dill
3 onions cut in quarters
1 Tbsp of Kosher salt
½ tsp of pepper
Rinse the chicken, put in a large pot and cover with water (maybe 2 quarts). Bring to a boil and skim any scum off top of the water. Add the vegetable, salt, and pepper. Simmer for about 1 ½ hours. Separate the chicken and vegetables from the soup using a colander, and add carrots back to the clear soup.
NOTE: I usually separate out 2 jars of soup, and about 6 smaller containers of broth.